Life is hard. I doubt there’s much debate over that. I am in awe of those for whom life is exceptionally hard. As Father Zosima (in “The Brothers Karamazov”) did to Dmitri out of respect for Dmitri’s suffering, I sometimes feel to bow to those who experience life’s more profound hardships.
It is easier, I think, to speak of the Lord’s peace (“not as the world giveth, give I unto you”) and of placing our trust in Him (“trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding”) when life is, for whatever reason, not as hard for us as it is for others. But what about when you’re the one facing any number of very difficult things: an ominous health diagnosis, betrayal from a spouse, same-sex attraction, a disabled child, a rebellious child, joblessness, rejection, depression, poverty, etc.
Nevertheless—and without being dismissive of the enormity of those challenges (as the word “nevertheless” might suggest)—the Savior’s message to us is that He will, in fact, give rest to those who are “heavy laden.” (In one sense, “heavy laden” is relative, with some thinking they’re heavy laden even while, in fact, they have it much easier than others; while in another legitimate sense, we are surely all “heavy laden.”)
“Take my yoke upon you,” He said, “and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The phrase “take my yoke upon you” means two things to me. First, get after it; head up, chin up, and keep going. If we’re going to be yoked together, we’ll need to do push as best we can. Second, trust Him to do His part. A key to the scripture is in the phrase “learn of me.” The more we become acquainted with Christ and with his attributes and motives, the easier it is to place our trust in Him. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Coming to know him better should be an active life-long pursuit for all of us.
The Savior also taught us to not worry about worldly things and things that we just don’t need to fret over right now. For “which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” On the other hand, “Consider the lilies” and the Lord’s willingness to take care of us who are “much better than” even those beautiful and perfectly obedient lilies.
No matter how much of a struggle we get into, it is always made worse by losing our perspective: when we decide our poor circumstances are permanent; when we doubt God’s existence (or at least His caring) because our troubles persist and He does not seem to respond to our requests to make them go away; when we believe that we must handle things on our own when we, in fact, can’t; etc. Such false ideas accentuate stress and lead to despair. They tend to lead us toward both giving up in our efforts and distrusting God—two things that will prevent us from finding rest for our souls.
I am reminded frequently of the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” How much we need to remember that!
I am also reminded of one of my favorite short verses of scripture (if only I could apply it better!): “In your patience possess ye your souls.”
Get to know God, trust Him, work, and be patient. This is part of living after the manner of happiness. And surely leads to the rest we seek.